Bolivia: Entry 7

12 December 2002: Uyuni, Bolivia

Subject: Bolivia

Well we finally got out of Potosí. It took longer than it should have done: the bus company signs all claim to have buses to Uyuni at 1130 and 1830, but when you ask it seems that only the evening buses exist. So we spent another day trying to find anything open to visit in Potosí: the only bit of industrial archaeology, an old water-powered ore crushing works, has been turned into a restraunt; the Calcha textiles exhibition is closed until further notice; the museum of regional costumes (we were getting desperate by this point) was closed for cleaning, and the University Museum seemed to have a lecture going on in it! We did get to look around the Casa de Moneda ("coin house"), where the silver was cast into ingots and turned into coins. It is an impressively large old building, apparently the largest in the New World at the time, with some interesting old machinery; they had huge mule-powered mills for flattening the cold silver ingots into strips from which the coins were cut.

Anyway we eventually boarded a bus for the six hour trip on an unsurfaced road to Uyuni. We survived, but it was not very pleasant - lots of vibrations. And it would have been nice to see the view. (We found out after we got to Potosí that there is actually still a train to Uyuni - probably much more comfortable than the bus ride, but sadly only once a week, and not on a convenient day for us.)


Uyuni is a small place with a bit of a wild west feel to it. It is in the middle of a big flat plain with a few hills in the distance that seem to float above the ground due to the heat. Having booked our jeep trip for tommorrow there was not much to do this afternoon, so taking the advice of our guidebook we went to visit the train graveyard. You might think that a poor place like Bolivia would melt down its old bits of train and turn them into concrete reinforcing rods (used here as a universal construction material), but it seems that they are happy to park them in the desert and let them rust. It is a two kilometer walk from the town center through the almost-desert landscape. It should be full of drought-resistant plants like cactuses and other small spikey things, but these all have the characteristic that stray plastic bags stick to them, and since the Uyunians dispose of their rubbish by chucking it in the street, the desert now blooms with millions of plastic bag bushes. Anyway we got to the graveyard, and some locals with a sense of humour have turned some of it into bits of art. One of the old locomotives is annotated with the slogan "Necesito un mecanisto con experencia" (Experienced mechanic required).

So we're off tommorrow to see the salt lake, and will be in Chile in three days.